Pianos

She began by placing grand pianos in unexpected public places. One day, a piano would appear in a courthouse elevator – or in the middle of a fountain in a public square. Naturally, such treatment did the pianos no good in their capacity as musical instruments – and soon she began to exploit the resulting damage, placing pianos on precarious and snow-covered Alpine slopes, in parching deserts, in the midst of the Amazon jungle, or at the bottom of the ocean. Sometimes, she thought to record the sounds of the instrument’s demise – subtly hiding tiny microphones and digital recorders to track, say, the strings’ slackening intonation, the disintegration of the hammers’ felt, and the snap of the dessicating wood in the relentless desert heat. But more often the instruments were left to their own ends, unmemorialized.

A few installations featured multiple pianos – a mile-long row of grands surreptitiously placed on the center line of an interstate highway in Montana, fifteen pianos carefully stacked in an empty lot in Trenton, New Jersey. Her most ambitious multi-instrument work was A Thousand Falling Pianos: as many pianos as possible, a hundred at least, were dropped in carefully calibrated intervals from several planes, onto the desert floor of Nevada, in an area ringed by a perimeter of sensitive microphones hundreds of yards from the impact zone. The signal from these microphones was mixed and recorded: she hoped to transform, through distance and repetition, the brutal sound of a single piano exploding onto the ground into a muffled series of timbres, different instruments landing in varying ways and making different sounds. The resulting sounds were oddly calming.

Ten years after creating the Jungle Piano, she returned to the site to find vines entangled around the metal framework of the harp, the strings disarrayed and carried off by animals, bits of wood covered in mossy soil, small creatures nesting in the stuffing of the piano bench’s seat. The organic decay and repurposing suggested a new course: she would grow organic pianos, rather than passively chart the decay of mechanical instruments. She consulted geneticists, prosthetics manufacturers, AI enthusiasts, specialists in regenerative healing…and eventually, her research culminated in her Bone Piano: living sinews stretching and growing, like strings, over a bone skeleton, encased in a chitinous, resonant exoskeleton but with enormous horn membranes (derived from elephant ears) to act as resonators. Despite the borrowed DNA, this piano was more plant than animal: it lacked any sort of awareness. And it was sterile. It could not reproduce.

Presumably.

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